Safer shipping over ice

by Drift + Noise GmbH - published on 16 October 2019

Article and Photos by Dr. Lasse Rabenstein

Background

The reduction of the sea-ice cover and predicted ice-free summers in the Arctic within the 21st century holds a large market potential for the Arctic regions. The Arctic Ocean is a shortcut for international shipping lines on three alternative routes: The North-East Passage, the North-West Passage or the Trans-Arctic Route. Furthermore 20-30% of the remaining oil & gas reserves are estimated to be in the Arctic. Finally, the pristine Arctic environment and the adventurous flair of one the world`s last wildernesses attract more and more expedition cruise operators. However, ice-free does not mean that there is no ice. Ice remains the biggest hazard for every Arctic venture. The Polar Code came into force on January 1, 2017, and makes decent ice information mandatory for every activity in Arctic waters.

A need for forecasts

Every ship transporting goods to, from or through the Arctic wants to find the fastest and safest way through or around the ice. Even service ice breakers save considerable amounts of time and fuel when they choose an easy path through the ice opposed to a straight path. Expedition cruise operators promise their passengers an adventurous but safe journey. That means, cruises ships seek the ice, but never want to get trapped in a dense ice cover. Several sources for ice information exist on the market. Unfortunately, sea-ice drifts several kilometres a day and all information on board is already outdated the moment it is available. All Arctic stakeholders are in an urgent need for ice forecasts. Presently there is no high-resolution ice forecast product available on the market.

The Hinlopen Strait in North East Svalbard is a bottle neck for the expedition cruise industry. High resolution ice forecasts would enhance planning capabilitites of cruise ships in that region enormously.

Predictive Ice Images

The concept PRIIMA (=Predicted Ice Images) was developed within an ESA kick-start activity and will deliver ice forecasts with the resolution of a satellite radar image. The concept is pragmatic in the sense that it establishes a helpful product developed in close collaboration with our test users from the field of cargo shipping, research ice breakers and expedition cruises.

PRIIMA in action for the Pechora Sea, Russia. This example shows an animation of 48 hours of predicted ice drift. It is an animation of a Sentinel-1 radar satellite image with driven with model data from the Copernicus Marine Service. It is a perfect tool for skilled ice navigators, but cannot be blindly taken as the truth in all the details.

At present stage the PRIIMA concept was tested with data provided by the Copernicus programme, namely Sentinel-1 SAR images and CMEMS sea-ice forecasts.

High resolution ice forecasts: Is that possible?